Essay Tips

As you’ll know by now, I write numerous essays. Last year I had the infamous “Week of 9 Essays,” as I refer to it, thanks to a rather unsympathetic teacher (he made it up to us with muffins). But, having written this many essays, you kinda get the knack of how to conquer them.

I’m not saying this is expert advice, but I thought I’d share a couple of things I’ve found helpful along the way – particularly with the long ones, like coursework essays, which are usually 1,500 words minimum. Like I say, I’m not an authority, but I am at the end of sixth form; I have lived and endured essays for five years, so I do have experience…

First of all, look at the question you have to answer, and decide on your judgement. Write it down. Whether you need to weigh up the evidence in a table or something first is up to you, but it will be a lot easier to structure your argument if you straight away have one sentence in mind which directly addresses the issue, and carries a judgement. Most of the questions I have to deal with these days, though I’m not sure this carries across to all areas, are “To what extent do you agree…” or “How far do you agree…” so they are looking for you to make a decision.

Now, if you’re doing a timed essay, in exam conditions, or it’s just a standard essay, I’d say a short plan is in order. Bullet point the main things you have to include in that essay. A couple of words each, no more than that, because it’s wasting time. You just need things to remind you and point you in the right direction. Annotate it throughout the essay if you need to, just to ensure you come back to certain points. The thing a lot of people don’t know and teachers don’t always make clear is that you can and should write the plan on your exam answer booklet – examiners like to see it, and it sometimes helps them grade you on the knowledge and understanding you have, even if you don’t get time to fit everything in your essay.

Writing extended essays is difficult: it’s easy to lose track of what’s where and what your point was. So, to skate around that issue, header your paragraphs. Don’t include the headers in your final drafts, but separate your paragraphs while you’re writing them. It’s always good to start plainly with introduction, point one, point two (etc.), conclusion. Write a sentence or quick note on the general idea of each point. It gives you a benchmark.

Another important thing to note is what’s commonly known as PEEL in British schools: Point, Evidence, Explanation, Link. The stupid thing with these essays, particularly at higher levels, is that the examiners want you to write an academic essay, with in-depth knowledge, breadth of evaluation, and all this sort. But, at the same time, they almost want you to treat the reader as an imbecile. Incapable of making links themselves, no matter how obvious they may be. So, at the end of every paragraph, you need to almost add in a mini conclusion; write a sentence which directly explains how this point relates to your judgement, how it’s relevant, and what its significance is. It’s a tricky balance.

Conclusions are tricky, probably more so that you think, but they don’t have to be. Many times in lower levels, like at GCSE, you’ll be told to use a conclusion merely to wrap up your argument. At higher levels, though, this isn’t enough. What I’ve learned – in both English Lit, History and Geography – is that longer conclusions are always better. Wrap up your points, yes, but reaffirm which is the most/least important. Perhaps mention something you haven’t considered throughout the rest of your essay. Throw in an extra statistic that reaffirms your judgement, or a quote that backs you up. Let the examiner know that (again, particularly in timed essays) you may not have explored all avenues, but you know they exist. You know where else your argument could have gone. Most of all, don’t waste your conclusion as a repeat of your introduction. Use it as a final chance to show off.

Finally, just get rid of the “I think” or “my opinion” phrases. Nothing you say in an essay should be tentative, it should be stated. Tell them what happened. Tell them as if there is no other possible opinion on the matter, because yours is undoubtedly right. This did happen, this sentence does mean this, this event did directly influence that one, and here’s how… You get my gist.

If this was helpful in any way, to anyone, I’m glad – they’re all fairly simple tips, but they’ve definitely helped me along the way!

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